BREXIT could cause a shortage of vets across the UK if the negotiations fail to produce a good deal for qualified foreign workers.

This warning came from British Veterinary Association president John Fishwick, who said that the impact of Brexit on personal and professional lives, public policy and trade was creating a perfect storm that could result in a veterinary capacity crisis for the UK.

“In trade alone, it’s been estimated that the volume of exports requiring veterinary certification could increase by as much as 325%," Mr Fishwick told attendees at the BVA's annual dinner in London.

“Depending on the outcome of Brexit negotiations, new veterinary certifications will need to be developed and supervised to ensure the continuation of smooth trade, which will require an increase in the number of specially trained official veterinarians to perform this role.”

Brexit had brought the UK’s reliance on EU veterinary professionals into sharp relief, said the BVA president – in food safety and hygiene alone, it is estimated that 95% of official veterinarians working in abattoirs are from overseas, with the large majority graduating in the EU.

He acknowledged the UK government’s reassurances for non-British EU nationals currently living and working in the UK, but pointed out that for some these had come too late: “Research by the RCVS has shown that nearly a third of vets and vet nurses whose nationality is non-UK European are considering a move out of the UK. To prevent an acute crisis in veterinary capacity, BVA is urging the Home Office to add veterinary surgeons to the shortage occupation list.”

Mr Fishwick's speech stressed that it was veterinary input and expertise that underpinned the UK’s high standards of animal health, animal welfare and public health, and that those standards could only be maintained with a robust, sustainable veterinary workforce in place.

“It is for all of these reasons that we believe animal health and welfare should be considered ‘public goods’ in any future UK agricultural policy, since this is exactly why we have our global reputation for agricultural produce and high standards."